Match Preview: NYCFC Opens the Season At Chicago Fire

Finally, after months of transfers, drafting, and roster compliance, the most wonderful time of the year is here. NYCFC have arrived in the midwest to open their sophomore campaign against Gilberto and the Chicago Fire. Each side will hope to open the year in a positive way after two ultimately disappointing seasons in 2015.  They’ll have their chance at 2:00 PM ET (1:00 PM CT) at Toyota Park, televised on the YES Network for those of us unable to make the trip west. After all the preseason success and hype, it comes down to 90 minutes on a pleasantly warm Sunday afternoon for these teams to get off on the right foot.

 

Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire are coming off a 2015 campaign to forget. Cellar dwellers in both the Eastern Conference and MLS, the Fire ended the year with a grand total of eight wins from 34 matches and a not-so-grand total of 30 points. It was enough of a disappointment to make some major chances on the administration side. New GM Nelson Rodriguez  is joined by debut manager Veljko Paunovic, who seeks to become only the second Fire manager to take three points from his regular season debut (Bob Bradley, 1998). He’ll have to overcome some recent history to do so, Chicago is 0-4-2 in their season openers dating back the last six seasons. Yet Chicago will want to change their fortunes this year, opening the season in front of their home fans for the first time since 2007 and just the third time ever.

They’ll enter the season in good form, having gone undefeated in their preseason match-ups, including most recently defeating the Portland Timbers 2-0. Much of their hopes coming into the year rest on the back of a revamped defensive line, lead by high SuperDraft picks Brandon Vincent and Jonathan Campbell. Joining them are four other backline signings, including Joao Meira, Nick LaBrocca, Michael Harrington, and Rodrigo Ramos. They’ll have their work cutout for them, as Chicago tied for the league lead in goals allowed with the opposing NYCFC.

Up front, Chicago will be led by the powerful attack of Gilberto and Kennedy Igboananike, who combined for a total of twelve goals last season. They’ll face some adversity, however, with the unexpected offseason departure of young midfield talent Harry Shipp. They’ll also likely have to make due without forward David Accam and midfielder Matt Polster who are both questionable with lower body injuries. They’ll surely be hoping their revamped defense can hold the line in the face of these absences and that their talented attack can find the back of the net enough to start off the year with three points at home.

Fire_Lineup_XI

New York City FC

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New York City FC enter the season much the same as Chicago. While their playoff hopes lasted a bit longer, they ultimately proved fruitless and that proved fatal to manager Jason Kreis. In his stead enters Patrick Vieira with the blessing of City Football Group to mold the team as he sees fit, particularly with his favored 4-3-3 formation. He’ll hope to parlay developmental success with Manchester City EDS into a playoff-worthy campaign in NYCFC at his first senior managerial position. He’ll also hope to avoid the slow start that plagued the team last year, who found themselves in the midst of an eleven match winless streak after drawing and winning their first two matches. Going to Chicago and finding a way to take three points will surely go a long ways towards the playoff success this team is chasing.

Much like Chicago, NYCFC’s sophomore season hopes rest on the legs of an almost entirely different back line. Gone are the likes of Jeb Brovsky, Chris Wingert, Shay Facey, and Angelino. In comes a plethora of new (mostly young) talents. Joining the team are Frederic BrillantEthan White, Ronald Matarrita, Diego Martinez, and recent signing Shannon Gomez to try and help strengthen holdovers Andoni Iraola, R.J. Allen, Jason Hernandez, and Jefferson Mena. The hope is that this group can ease the pressure on standout keeper Josh Saunders, who led the league in both goals conceded and saves.

The team also acquired a plethora of midfield talent to supplement their existing potent attack, spearheaded by captain David Villa. Incoming are the likes of Frederico Bravo, Mikey Lopez, and number one overall draft pick Jack Harrison. The new acquisitions will likely play key roles quickly, as NYCFC will likely be without the services of Frank LampardJack HarrisonJefferson Mena, and R.J. Allen. Also out is midfielder Connor Brandt. This team will quickly find out just how positive those offseason signings were and how they handle adversity on the road as they try and secure the first win in manager Patrick Vieira’s career.

NYCFC_Lineup_XI_Chicago

Prediction

Both teams would love to begin the season with a bang. Chicago has the advantage of playing at home with a hungry team and a hungry new manager, but New York City FC will be looking to prove themselves as well and will put up a fight. Chicago won the first match between the two last season 1-0 in the infamous Andrew Jacobson red card match, and followed it up with a 2-2 draw at Yankee Stadium in the midst of that winless streak for NYCFC. But this is a New York team that really came on towards the end of the year and will look to carry that momentum forward and turn it into their first three point result against the Fire. It’s a close call, but it’ll surely be an enjoyable season opener to watch no matter the result.

Photo Description & Credit: Soccer By Ives (sbisoccer.com) May 15, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Chicago Fire forward Kennedy Igboananike (77) takes the ball away from New York City FC defender Jason Hernandez (21) during first half at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports